It is interesting how nervous Democrats are considering the lead that Joe Biden, their all-but-official nominee, has in both national polling and statewide surveys. The former vice president now has a 9-point advantage in the RealClearPolitics average of major national polls, which includes online and IVR (robocall) polls, and 8 points in the FiveThirtyEight weighted averages. His lead actually swells if we include only the gold-standard, live telephone interview polls conducted over the last month, which pushes his advantage closer to 12 points.
These are margins far greater than the 3.4 percent lead that Hillary Clinton had in the RealClearPolitics average and the 6.1-point lead in the FiveThirtyEight measurement at this point in 2016. Going into Election Day, the RealClearPolitics average had her up by 3.3 points, and FiveThirtyEight put her lead at 3.9 points. Of course, we all know that Clinton won the popular vote by 2.1 percentage points (2.9 million votes), but it wasn’t enough to win her the Electoral College.
So let’s turn to the all-important state-by-state picture. When RCP tallies up current state-level polls with no toss-ups allowed, Biden leads in half the states plus the District of Columbia, which would net him 352 Electoral College votes. Trump is ahead in the other half, for a total of 186 electoral votes.
The Economist’s model, which combines state and national polling data, historic voting patterns, and economic data, shows an almost identical result: Biden with 350 Electoral votes, Trump with 188.
Fox News polls conducted in Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania released Thursday night reinforce how big a hill Trump must climb. In Michigan, a state that Trump won by two-tenths of a percentage point four years ago, Biden now leads by 9 points, 49 to 40 percent. In Minnesota, a state that Clinton won by just 1.5 points, Biden is ahead by 13 points, 51 to 38 percent. In Pennsylvania, a state Trump carried by seven-tenths of a point, Biden is up by 11 points, 50 to 39 percent.
It isn’t just the trial heats that are bad news for the president. Corroborating the Fox, ABC News/Washington Post, and NBC News/Wall Street Journal national polls released over the last week, while 53 percent of voters in Michigan viewed Biden favorably and 42 percent unfavorably, a net plus-11 points, Trump was 12 points underwater on favorability. Biden was seen favorably by 53 percent of Minnesota voters and unfavorably by 43 percent (plus 10), while Trump was upside down by 18 points. In Pennsylvania, Biden sported a 55 percent favorable, 43 percent unfavorable rating; Trump was 14 points upside down.
Of course, things could change, but they’d need to do so pretty quickly. The first votes could be cast in as little as six weeks. North Carolina, another swing state, starts mailing out absentee ballots in the first week of September. Moreover, with no traditional national conventions, it is hard to see much of a bounce for either candidate coming out of the mostly virtual events. With a new surge in coronavirus cases and deaths and economic lockdowns returning in many places, the odds of a meaningful third-quarter economic rebound are pretty low, too. Trump supporters are convinced that Biden is senile and suffers from dementia, but that view is decidedly not shared by voters in the most recent Fox News poll (check out the findings from questions 23-30).
So other than still suffering from PTSD following Election Night 2016, why are top Democratic strategists so worried? Well, they’re fretting over whether polling places will be open, whether a shortage of polling workers due to the pandemic—particularly in large urban areas—could depress their vote. They worry about postal-sorting facilities being closed down due to the coronavirus, which would make it hard to get ballots out to people and back in time to be counted (some states require ballots to be postmarked by a certain date, or received by a certain time). They worry about vote counters being overwhelmed in states where there is little history of mail-in voting. Then they worry about voter-suppression efforts by some Republican state and local election figures.
I recently had a conversation with one very senior Democratic strategist. Probably 90 percent of the conversation was about all of the things that worried him, and virtually all of it had to do with the administration of this election and all of the things that could go wrong. Simply put, whether legitimately or out of paranoia, they are less worried about President Trump winning this election than about other factors allowing it to slip out of their hands. When I first heard some of this talk several months ago, I tended to discount it, but whether any of these fears manifest themselves in any meaningful way or not, it is what keeps Democrats awake at night.